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To Know Christ and to Make Him Known

July 19, 2020: The Peace of God by Bobby Swineford

The Peace of God recording


The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
July 19, 2020
Bobby Swineford

Text: Luke 12:51

“Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.”

Most of us love labels. Labels make it easier for us to categorize the different people that we know. One might be a “good sport;” a second is “Girl Crazy.” A third might be as “stubborn as a mule.”

We do the same with Jesus. He is for most of us “the Prince of Peace,” a gentle and loving Lord, as we illustrate Him with the lamb in His arms. At His birth the angels sang “Peace on earth, good will toward men.” Also, did He not teach in the Beatitudes, “Blessed are the Peacemakers?”

That is all fine, but then something comes along that contradicts our labels, as in Jesus’ statement in our text from Luke’s Gospel. “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.”

Of course we want to emphasize the more positive aspect of our Lord’s teaching and especially His words of compassion and comfort. This, however, gives us a one-sided view of the Man and the gospel, which has a great deal to say about sin, brokenness, alienation, suffering, and even death. Moreover, the gospel message would not truly speak to our own condition if it did not recognize the troubles and the strife that are so much a part of life as we know it.

The world, in which Jesus lived and taught was as fragmented as ours. The people of Palestine, in our Lord’s time, lived in subjugation to a foreign political power, the Roman Empire, and they were divided among themselves by conflicting racial and religious loyalties. Indeed, it was the unrest that produced the climate that led to the crucification of Jesus.

The fact of the matter is that the preaching and teaching of Jesus did cause divisions. He was not crucified for talking about peace. His basic message was a call to repentance, and that means much more than simply being sorry for something you have done wrong. The New Testament Greek word Metanoia, which is usually translated as “repentance,” means a turning around, a radical re-ordering of values and priorities. In the case of Jesus’ preaching, it meant a total giving of allegiance to the demands of the Kingdom of God and an absolute commitment to the discipleship to the Son of God.

When Jesus called the first disciples, the Evangelist tells us that “they left everything and followed Him. In the words of the familiar hymn, they “turned from home and toil and kindred, leaving all for His dear sake.” No doubt that the summons to discipleship left some families divided; 1) father against son, 2) mother against daughter, 3) son against his father and 4) daughter against her mother.” There were also those who were attracted to Jesus and His cause, but who could not accept what appeared to them as His radical demands. The rich young man turned away from Jesus at the challenge to “sell what you possess and give it to the poor, and come, and follow me.” He could not give up his wealth and embrace a higher loyalty, so, he went away sorrowful.”

Jesus’ call to repentance created divisions, and it also created resentment. The animosity He aroused was not so much from those who knew themselves to be sinners, but rather it was from the conventionally godly people, the upright and respectable, who were scandalized by the charge that they were just as much in need of repentance and just as much subject to divine judgment as their reprobate neighbors. This is an illustration that a little Christianity can be a dangerous thing.

The crucifixion of Jesus was planned and brought about by the pious Pharisees who were in league with the temple officials, the Sadducees. These were the good church-going people of the time. They could not repent; they could not admit their need for God’s saving grace – they could not change. Obviously they did not want forgiveness; instead, they wanted approval, so they tried to destroy the One whose call to repentance threatened their self-esteem, as He tried to “drain the swamp.”

Can we recognize ourselves in those people? Like them, we are good, pious church-going people, but we must beware lest our conventional goodness should prevent us from responding to our Lord’s call to repentance, for He calls each one of us to be reborn and to find new life, that true life that can only be found in Him. If we reject His call, we crucify Him all over again!

We know that the world’s hatred could not overcome God’s love incarnate. Indeed, the Son of God literally offered His life on behalf of His crucifiers, as He prayed from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” It wasn’t the nails that held Him to the cross. He could have come off of that cross at any time, He could have said, “I’ve had enough of this and I am “out of here!” But, it was His love for us that kept Him there. After all, He built the hill on which that cross stood. His love was stronger than death, and God raised up His Son from the dead on the third day.

St. John tells us that when the risen Lord first appeared to His frightened disciples on Easter night, He said to them “Peace be with you.” In His living presence among them and in their fellowship with one another in His name, they found a new peace that was an unbreakable bond between them, a peace that could overcome the hostility that surrounded them. And Sunday by Sunday, they gathered together to break bread and pray and to share what they had in the way of worldly goods. Hounded and hunted because of their faith in Jesus, they nevertheless radiated a peace and joy and love that caused even their enemies to marvel and to exclaim, “see these Christians, how they love one another.” Through their own repentance and baptism into a new life, they found peace within themselves and among themselves; and so, they could return the world’s hatred with love and forgiveness. They have given themselves over completely to serving a Lord whom even death could not conquer. According to Dr. Chuck Missler, He’s indescribable; He’s incomprehensible; He’s irresistible; He’s invincible. The heaven of heavens cannot contain Him; man cannot explain Him. The Pharisees couldn’t stand Him and they found that they couldn’t stop Him. The witnesses couldn’t agree against Him and Pilate couldn’t find any fault with Him. Herod couldn’t kill him, death couldn’t handle Him, and the grave couldn’t hold Him. At this point they could not be stopped and, as a result, the Christian Church spread throughout the world.

What does all of this have to do with us? Certainly we cannot ignore the divisions and the animosities that are so much a part of the society in which we live. Our Lord never suggested that we should hide our heads in the sand and ignore reality. In the upper room, before His crucifixion, He said to the disciples quite frankly, “In the world you will have tribulation.” “Being a Christian will not do away with your troubles,” but, He added, “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”

Most people try to straddle the line between a Christian commitment and an accommodation to the world’s expectations and standards; yet, without commitment, how can we expect to find “the peace of God that passeth all understanding?” Even in our church life we see divisions – 1) between denominations, 2) between competing local churches and sometimes 3) even between factions within a congregation; yet there is, too, an underlying bond that unifies us as servants of the same Master. Only the truly repentant and dedicated among us have made possible the continuing witness of the church throughout 2000 years that have seen trouble and torture. It is through these servants that Christian worship becomes an uplifting and renewing experience Sunday after Sunday and brings the peace of God that is found in Christ. That peace is what the church has to give to the world.

In assembling for worship and praise, we come into the presence of the Lord, who has promised to be with His people whenever two or three are gathered together in His name. It is here that His restoring, reconciling peace is most deeply and keenly alive.

Our vocation as Christians is not to keep this experience for ourselves, but to share it with our neighbors, and to let the Spirit of Christ so guide us that in all that we say and do, we shall be ambassadors, accomplishing His redeeming work. Let us hope that we may truly know and continue to fulfill our calling of the Mission of Good Shepherd to bear witness to His way rather than the way of the world. In doing this, we will not only find peace for ourselves, but we may also help to bring the healing peace of God to all mankind. ~Amen

Offered by Bobby Swineford
July 19, 2020